Yoruba Classic Aso oke (2 of 3), comprising all previously written on Etu – Tola Adenle

Etu – pronounce the ‘e’ (as in the ‘e’ of ‘epic’ – and tu as in ‘too [e-tu] is considered by many as the Number Three among the three classics although many also consider it Number Two.  I’ve generally gone with my Alaso oke – the weaver – at Iseyin for calls on Yoruba cloths and the sewn clothes in matters pertaining to our tradition; so for me, it’s Number Two!

Etu is also known as Olowu dudu – cloth made of black cotton thread.


UPDATE, March 20, 2013: 

I’m working on a piece right now based on some very useful and new – to me – info.  Etu, just like the other two great classics, sanyan & alaari, were originally woven in silk thread from the threads of the silk cocoons which our ancestors processed (sericulture).

“An avid reader of, and contributor to this blog, TAO, sent me mail that the three great classics were all end products of sericulture, and that while the Chinese never let the world forget that THEY invented it – which is very true – the Yoruba, whose hierarchy was boosted in “civilization” index by their acquiring and putting sericulture to use a long time ago, have lost the art.After receiving his mail which contains the revelation about silk being the thread for the three classics, I decided to speak to the oldest relation I have, my 93-year old step mother …”

Read the rest of the above piece on Yoruba and Sericulture through the link below.



silk wormsThe silk worm and its natural home.  WIKIPEDIA


Photograph of a little piece of Etu woven from cotton thread.  In the past, Etu, as well as the other two classics, Sanyan and Alaari, were woven from silk when the Yoruba were noted for accomplishment skill in Sericulture. 



Unfortunately, when it came time for my second child to get married in 1998, Alhaji Alarape of Iseyin told us the notice he had was too short to get the thread for Etu ready for the whole family, and in his usual purist way, he warned us not to buy a stock he had on hand because it was woven too loosely and would not be suitable for us as bride’s parents!

What to do?  We decided to go with Number Three, Alaari to make the family clothes for our Number Two child and the result has a latter wedding (2004) being used this week.  Next week, I will present Alaari which we wore earlier in 1998.

Bride’s parents in Etu and Bride and her Little Bride in Western outfits.


Photo Credit:  Biodun Ogunmola, December 2004.

Unlike Sanyan or Alaari as I mentioned last week, the men’s complete outfit for Etu is worn a bit differently.  The undergarment, awotele, is generally sewn using a lighter white fabric material, and these days, light cotton guinea brocade is the fabric of choice.  The agbada or sokoto (big top and pants) are both made of the hand-woven fabric.

I must digress here to add two omissions I made last week:  I overlooked saying anything about the sokoto or fila  The sokoto are always made from the same woven fabrics although some modern variations are constantly introduced by individuals and as these are fads, they generally do not last.  There are two main styles of sokoto: the more popular big-at-top-tapered-down-towards-the-ankle style and the really big-from-top-to-bottom style known as kembe.

The fila (cap) comes in a variety of styles and it is very interesting to find kids these days opting for the whimsical abeti aja which, as its name implies in Yoruba, has the bottom flipped up like dog’s ears!  They get the chance to do this, especially at the traditional engagement ceremonies or at the rare wedding ceremonies where bride and groom go traditional.  Parents and older males, however, generally stick to the simple traditional fila that fit snugly around the head and are adorned with embroidery, preferably hand-embroidered.

As has always been the custom, the bride’s parents wear the same cloth while the groom’s parents wear their own separate aso ebi cloth  as in the picture but things are changing in this basic phase of aso ebi (uniform clothes for family members).  Aso ebi were usually worn by family members as ebi in Yoruba means ‘family members’.  At funeral ceremonies, this would mean the children of the deceased while at wedding ceremonies, it was generally the parents of the kids getting married, and their siblings.

Here are the changes which many – including this Blogger – is not a fan of:

It definitely may look lovely having the parents of the bride and groom wear the same thing but as a young woman asked recently when we had an informal discussion on the subject, “How do we distinguish the two families?” I’ve been told it’s for “unity”, a word that is forever dear to Nigerians just as religion is high on our to-do lists – pardon the trivialization – but does not generally show in our way of life and dealings with others. A favorite priest recently delivered a sermon on Nigeria and the word ‘unity’, and cited the many appearances of it in the National Pledge, the National Anthem, etcetera but wondered aloud if Nigeria is really a “united” country even though it is a “union”.  I thought it was a beautiful sermon.

Another change to aso ebi is what a young lady once submitted in one of 234NEXT’s  “rants” as “Menace to a wedding party” by Gbonjubola Babalola – http://234next.com/csp/cms/sites/Next/Home/5538833-146/story.csp.

WeddingsETUoneThe father takes the first dance in an after-wedding garden party.  Ibadan, December 2004.

Photography:  Biodun Ogunmola

Here are two blogs I posted on the story about 1 ½ years ago:

It’s nice to hear young people who seem to have picked this bad habit from the older ones and given it more than a work-out. Aso ebi used to mean just that: clothes worn by RELATIVES to distinguish them mostly at funerals. During one of the weddings, I just told my sisters to wear ETU, the black aso oke because most Yoruba women would own SANYAN, ALAARI and ETU. A hundred thousand in a single year for aso ebi! It is NOT impossible to “clean out the aso ebi menace” as “To Live” thinks. Do not allow anyone to “badger” or “pester” you to make you order aso ebi and it would be easy to refuse to take them. I should know; I’ve given out three girls in marriage (from 1998) and I actually had aso ebi on each of the three occasions – in the true sense of the word. No more than EIGHT people received clothes to which no add-ons were made. Just do your thing and they’ll leave you alone. Yoruba started the proliferation; it will take young people like you to say ‘enough’, not to join the train. I offer you young women this other side to let you know you really do not have to go that route.

Posted by TOLA ADENLE on Mar 28 2010

Continued cause I do not want a big long paragraph to dissuade you from reading. And how can you have time for yourself: to refresh, to sit back and read, to enjoy your spouses and friends if you must attend parties six consecutive weekends? How can you have money to spare for other things you enjoy? Please young ladies, it’s a road you should divert from. If that N100k is disposable income to you cause you earn a lot, take a weekend trip to somewhere. You can even check into a really nice hotel in the same city you live and skip cooking, etcetera. It’s madness and must stop and it’s people like you all here who can and will stop it.

The aso ebi “menace” has gone so way out of hand that a blogger noted she had spent around a hundred thousand naira within a couple of months on aso ebi.  The fabric of choice, especially at funerals and less formal occasions may be the affordable ankra prints that are popular all over West Africa but costs do mount and could lead to women over-stretching the family budget.  When I asked kids at a fee-paying school where I once volunteered to help with English for 2 hours/weekly to purchase a book that cost under N400, I was amazed at the number of kids who did not buy the book.  After two weeks, I asked those who had not bought:  “how many mommies went to parties since we met last week?”  Then, “how many wore ankra aso ebi to those parties?” There were hands up.  “Tell Mommies,” I said, “that it’s more important to buy books that cost under N500 for you than aso ebi that costs N2,000.”

This essay has not derailed.  Above is a necessary aside.  While culture should not be stagnant, there’s nothing progressive or dynamic in turning what our ancestors did into caricature.

As in all places around the world, the Chinese are not just coming to muscle in on the aso oke business but are already here to ruin the business in more ways than one:  their cheap inexact designs but with generally vibrant colors as could only be obtained through synthetic dyes are driving our weavers out of business.  Chinese manufacturers are also fraudulently claiming ownership of designs like the age-old omolangidi designs.  While I own no Chinese-made aso oke, I’ve seen  “copyright” boldly imprinted on some imports.  Unlike the locally hand-woven originals, these fakes are not soft and are difficult to tie or hold in place as gele or iro without string ties!

And so, dear readers, I present the Yoruba etu and would welcome addition and/or comments as a reader did last week.  I would even very much welcome pictures (JPEG, PDF, etcetera), especially old ones, of any of the classic clothes.


There are other occasions – usually formal – when aso oke, classic or modern can be worn.  The bride’s parents would repeat wearing the same etu, eight years later at the 70th birthday party (only at for the first hour or so, though!) of the bride’s father.

As mentioned earlier in the Beier story, Cloth wears to shreds, and in another story about my late father-in-law’s sanyan (Yoruba’s Number One aso oke) being passed on to my spouse’s older brother, the three big clothes sanyan, etu & alaari are usually worn as often as big occasions come up: weddings, landmark birthdays, etcetera.


At Dr. Depo Adenle’s  70th birthday party in Vegas, December 2011.  L to R: Louanne with modern aso oke to ward off the December chill; Depo & Blogger wear etu.

[Picture Credit:  Biodun Ogunmola]

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7 Comments on “Yoruba Classic Aso oke (2 of 3), comprising all previously written on Etu – Tola Adenle”

  1. mezay Says:

    hello there…nice post….My father was Nigerian( we live in India) and at his funeral a few people placed some rich looking fabric on him..is there any reason or purpose for it..I would love to know..



    • emotan77 Says:

      Thanks, Mezay. I really do not know why this is done but I think the symbolism may speak for itself. At some military burials, colors or caps are placed while I too have seen something like you reported and did think to myself it’s an idea I would like. Who knows, it may also hearken to historical past when people believed in the after-life where dearly departed would require same things they had on earth.

      Greetings. TOLA.



  2. Joy Says:

    Great pics, mom



  3. joke Says:

    Lovely pictures



  4. Oladosu Gidigb Says:

    This brings back memories of the good old days. More grease to your elbow.



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